The favorite child

Joey Garcia

I am the grandmother of two boys, an 11-year-old from my son’s first marriage, and a 6-year-old from his second. I love the older boy but can’t stand his mother. And, yes, I love the woman my son is married to, but their son is a spoiled brat, prone to tantrums. This summer, my husband and I would like to take my older grandson to Europe for a two-week vacation. We don’t want to take the younger boy. How do I handle this?

Promote the trip abroad as a rite of passage and reward for good behavior. Your older grandson is a preteen or “tween,” not quite a child but certainly not a teenager, either. It’s actually a wonderful time in his life. Teenagers are not always delighted to participate in family vacations, so make the most of this period by celebrating his tween status.

Present your older grandson and his parents with a card or artfully designed document that says something like, “In recognition of good behavior from ages 6 to 11, (his name here) will be given a two-week trip to Europe, good only Summer 2010.” Be clear with your son and daughter-in-law that the trip is a new family tradition, a gift for a grandchild between 11 and 13 years old who exhibits behaviors and values befitting the transition to adolescence. Then, using positive language, list six or eight specific behaviors or attitudes that you are watching for, such as: “speaks respectfully to adults” or “listens well and follows directions,” etc. This will provide your younger grandson and his parents with the expectations that must be met to earn a similar trip in the future. You might also encourage your younger grandson to create a collage of travel images to hang in his bedroom. It can remind him that good behavior is valued in your family.

Here’s another side of your dilemma: Although many parents deny it publicly, privately they admit favoring one of their children over another. I think your son and his wife indulge their younger son as proof of their affection for each other. Subconsciously, they may believe that the older son represents the prior marriage and wife. So if he receives more or equal affection to the child they had together, their commitment to each other is threatened. It’s not true, of course, but it’s a sign of the way that children of divorced parents are sometimes treated.

My wife has been unemployed for more than a year, and we’ve nearly depleted our retirement savings. Our 9-year-old worries sick about everything, so we dug ourselves into a hole trying to maintain the facade of normalcy. Now our daughters are begging for expensive summer camps. Is it better to tell kids about finances or keep them innocent?

Should you approach this situation as what educators call “a teachable moment” or keep living a lie? What would you want your daughters to do? Tell the truth, right? Let your girls know that you and your wife have been more invested in what other people think of you than in living within your means. That focus on needing others’ admiration and approval has led you to neglect the basics of self-care: honesty, financial responsibility and self-esteem. Create a practical budget and invite your daughters into the process of deciding how to reduce spending: cut cable television, dinners out only for special occasions, carry lunch to school and work, etc. Have monthly family meetings to check progress. As for your 9-year-old worrier, talk to her school counselor about free resources to help your daughter learn how to handle anxiety and resources to assist you and your wife to avoid behaviors that contribute to it.

Meditation of the week
“If we can’t be honest, we might as well watch television,” says Ruthie Molloy, the founder and owner of Illuminare Cosmetics in El Dorado Hills. How many hours a week do you watch TV? Practice honesty?

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